U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)
United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), sent a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) asking for HHS's report on the Administration's efforts to address racial disparities in health care access and outcomes, as required by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA). The lawmakers requested answers on why the Trump Administration has failed to provide Congress and the public with this legally required information. In the letter, the lawmakers highlighted the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on communities of color and the need to address systemic racism and racial disparities in health care to mitigate and control the COVID-19 pandemic.
"The unjust reality that Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities have been disproportionately infected and killed by COVID-19 underscores that racism, discrimination, and bias are public health problems that the federal government must prioritize," the lawmakers wrote. "The Department of Health and Human Services is required by law to report biannually to Congress on its progress to address health disparities, but these reports appear to have stopped under the Trump Administration. Without successfully addressing these racial disparities in health outcomes and health care access, we will not be able to mitigate and fully control the COVID-19 pandemic. You have, to date, failed to do so, with tragic consequences."
In 2010, Congress recognized racial disparities as an urgent health crisis and as part of the ACA, elevated the HHS Office of Minority Health to "lead and coordinate activities that improve the health of racial and ethnic minority populations and reduce health disparities." The ACA also required the Office of Minority Health to report to Congress on its activities every two years. However, the Trump Administration has not publicly produced reports as mandated by Congress for 2017 and 2019.
Recent data shows that the COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected communities of color. The data reveals that Black and Latinx individuals are at higher risk of contracting the virus, because they are more likely to suffer from existing underlying conditions and because of additional structural barriers such as the lack of health care access.
The lawmakers asked HHS to respond to their inquiry by no later than July 28, 2020:
The letter is part of Senator Warren's ongoing efforts to press the Trump Administration to respond effectively to this crisis and address existing racial disparities in the United States. Recently, Senator Warren published an op-ed about how the federal government must take bold action to address the COVID-19 crisis and center vulnerable communities in its response, including the Latino community. Senator Warren has also introduced bicameral legislation to require the federal government to collect and report coronavirus demographic data--including race and ethnicity. In March, along with Representative Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), Senator Warren urged HHS to collect racial and ethnic demographic data on testing and treatment for COVID-19 to identify and address racial disparities. The lawmakers also sent a letter to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) calling on the agency to immediately release racial and ethnic data of Medicare beneficiaries who are tested or hospitalized for COVID-19.